San Diego is as rich and varied an arts cauldron as any in the world. Wander through our extensive calendar of events here at SanDiegoStory.com and you can see what a daunting task it is to cover everything – and we list and cover only the performances and exhibitions of the professional artists in town – 75 of them in 2012. We believe audiences, performers and producers alike benefit from a professional eye cast upon the works and a professional pen to describe what we see. Most performances are one time events. A bad movie stays a bad movie, night after night. Unlike a movie review, our reviews may not be exactly applicable to another night’s performance, but by their very existence testify to the vitality of the works and the joy of producing good art. Each of the professional critics on our staff, took a look at last year and give their thoughts are below. If you caught one of the performances described, you might recognize the points made or you may see how good criticism can be used by everyone to enrich the arts experience. If nothing else, looking back will give you a chance to see the depth and breadth of the professional arts in town and give you a vision in preparation for embracing the new crop of work in 2013.
– Mark Burgess, Publisher
It was a year of disappointments, the biggest being the struggles of sandiego.com, which survives only as a mummified husk having nothing to do with its once flourishing coverage of the city’s art.
As always, consolation came from the art itself.
Shakespeare was splendidly represented at the Old Globe by Adrian Noble’s wise and juicy As You Like It, which survived early darkness slopped over from its repertory mate, a relentlessly loathsome Richard III, staged by Lindsay Posner.
The summer also was graced by a retelling of The Iliad at the La Jolla Playhouse. Staged and (with Denis O’Hare) adapted by Lisa Peterson, a significant lump of Homer’s epic was delivered by just two artists, Henry Woronicz as a haunted poet, exhausted from retelling the epic through centuries, and double-bassist Brian Ellingsen, endlessly supplying musical illumination.
The Old Globe highlighted its autumn with David Lindsay-Abaire’s slice-of-life from the extremes of Boston affluence, Good People, featuring Eva Kaminsky as a survivor, hopeless but irresistible.
But the best of the year’s crop was saved for last, when Des McAnuff returned to the La Jolla Playhouse for Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a stage adaptation of a vivid recorded epic by the Flaming Lips. What started as a vague anime concept has been fashioned by McAnuff and Lips leader Wayne Coyne into a moving, stimulating narrative of a girl’s fight against her cancer. The music, the décor, the puppets, the large cast and the daring of this project may form the major heritage of this in the San Diego theatre.
My top five performances for 2012:
BJM Danse dazzles in eclectic program (Nov. 11)
Dance-theater at its best, Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal gave a phenomenal performance of “Harry,” choreographer Barak Marshall’s darkly humorous view of survival in the context of a war zone.
Of the three intensely physical premieres in the series, John Malashcock’s “Uneasy Surrender” packed a surprising emotional punch in the intimate Dance Place Studio.
A dance of remarkable range that recounts hypocrisy through the life of soul singer Marvin Gaye, Lavina Rich’s dance drama Universal (Marvin’s Remix) gave the “Archives” unforgettable and unexpected depth.
Vintage Holiday Musical Endures (Dec. 17)
San Diego Musical Theater delivered an entertaining version of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” with sparkling song and dance performances in the historic Birch North Park Theatre, in spite of the corny storyline from the iconic film.
Although overly long, City Ballet offered an elegant Balanchine program with its expected reverance, but also an edgy, sporty work by company dancer Geoffrey Gonzalez, an emerging talent and direction for the company.
Here’s my list of favorites for 2012:
Lamb’s Leads From Strength in See How They Run (August 21)
“Producing Artistic Director Robert Smyth has a knack for staging plays from the 1940s. He gets the era, how people talked then, and he’s fascinated with the details of the kind of well-made play that 1940s writers routinely produced. But, these plays today are considered quaint, and they’re seldom done. Mr. Smyth consistently provides persuasive evidence for reviving shows from this period.He’s also good at directing farce, and See How They Run is a classic 1940s British farce. It should be a winner at Lamb’s and it is.”
Essay: A Noble and Dirty Business (August 2)
“…most theatre worth seeing is political at some level, though that level may not be readily apparent or easily overlooked.”
New Theatrical Voice Stuns at UCSD (November 21)
“Tarell Alvin McCraney is clearly a theatrical heir of playwright August Wilson, and Mr. Wilson served as a mentor during his graduate playwriting education at Yale. Mr. McCraney’s work, like that of his mentor, is a product of big ideas and bold theatricality while at the same time honing to the cultural traditions of the African American community.”
Satire Tonight in The Exit Interview (October 6)
“You’ve probably guessed that we’ve got a satire going here, and, in fact, there’s quite a few laugh-out-loud lines. There’s also some pretty good send-ups of media conventions, some references to Obama and Romney that will be dated in six weeks, a funny “debate” about religion, and a lot of references that theatre insiders will catch. In fact, if audiences for The Exit Interview could consist entirely of other actors, it would be uproarious.”
Intrepid’s Midsummer Life Could Be a Dream (sha boom) (September 9)
“…if you’re familiar with the local theatre scene this cast list may have you salivating to the point of drool. And, you’d be justified: there’s a gaggle of laughs generated by moments such as Kevin Koppman-Gue leapfrogging Brian Mackey, or David McBean doing the bass line on a doo-wop number before donning drag and a high voice to perform the heroine of the play-within-a-play. And, if you recall Sandy Campbell’s recent lead performance in Cygnet’s production of Parade you know that she can sell a song.”
Here are my favorites from 2012 in order of favor:
An exemplary performance of one of the most important musical contributions of the 21st century, composer Tan Dun conducted his Buddhist take on an iconic Christian genre for La Jolla SummerFest.
A play of stunning emotional power that ion theatre mounted with its customary passion and finesse in its jewel-box Hillcrest theater.
The local symphony accompanied the brilliant 23-year-old Taiwanese violinist Ray Chen in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, a glimpse of a major new talent on the way up.
Guest conductor Nagano whipped a festival chamber orchestra into great shape for an unexpectedly exciting performance that capped this year’s La Jolla SummerFest.
This Glengarry Glen Ross a Soft Sell (Oct. 4)
Although unevenly cast, the La Jolla Playhouse gave an entertaining account of David Mamet’s virtuoso skewering of red-blooded American salesmanship.